Council on Environmental Quality Blog

  • Helping Local Leaders Prepare for the Impacts of Climate Change

    This week, the Obama Administration released the third U.S. National Climate Assessment, the most comprehensive and authoritative report on U.S. climate impacts ever generated. The report makes clear that climate change is already affecting every region of the country, as well as key sectors of our economy.

    The great thing about the report is that it takes all of this important scientific information and packages it into practical and usable knowledge to plan for the future climate change impacts that could take place in regions across the country. This complements the information provided in the President’s Climate Data Initiative, which spurs innovators to use open data to build tools communities need to better understand, manage, and prepare for the real-world impacts associated with climate change. Maps of future sea-level rise, for instance, can help builders decide where to break ground out of harm’s way, while other online tools can help water utility operators identify potential threats to the local water supply.

    All across the country, local decision-makers and leaders are hungry for this type of actionable science, as they plan for a future with more frequent and severe extreme weather, extreme temperatures, and other climate change impacts. I have the privilege of working with local decision-makers to address these climate change-related challenges in my role as Co-Chair of President Obama’s State, Local, and Tribal Leaders Task Force on Climate Preparedness and Resilience. Community leaders are often the first to face the harsh realities of climate change, and the 26 members of the Task Force have proven themselves effective leaders in helping their communities prepare for climate impacts.

    Just last week, I joined Governor Peter Shumlin, a member of the Task Force, in Vermont, where many folks are still recovering from the devastating effect that Hurricane Irene had on the state. It’s been almost three years since the storm, but, driving around, you can still clearly see some of its impacts. Roads are washed away in some places, and there are houses and buildings severely damaged. There’s a lot of work to be done, but under Governor Shumlin’s leadership, the state of Vermont is making great progress in rebuilding smarter and stronger, so they can be ready for the next storm.

    Governor Shumlin’s experience with this kind of resilient rebuilding effort will ultimately help inform the Task Force’s recommendations to the President on disaster preparedness. And the National Climate Assessment will provide key information to leaders all over the country who – like Governor Shumlin – are working to make their communities more resilient.  This kind of information-sharing and partnership is exactly what we need to build a safer and more resilient Nation. 

    Next week, senior Administration officials and local leaders will gather together in Des Moines, Iowa, for the next Task Force meeting, and I look forward to continuing this important dialogue to identify ways we can work together to prepare for the future.  The Task Force will deliver its final recommendations on how the Administration can respond to the needs of communities nationwide dealing with the impacts of climate change this Fall. 

    Mike Boots is Acting Chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality

  • Creating New Opportunities For Americans To Buy Green Homes

    Ed. Note: This is cross-posted from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development

    This week, HUD partnered with the White House to host a Green Mortgage Appraisal Roundtable with national leaders from the lending, realtor, homebuilding and appraisal industries.

    The roundtable discussion was an initiative of President Obama’s Climate Action Plan and one more step in a series of actions the Administration is taking to accelerate the adoption and use of energy efficient improvements in single-family homes. The event highlighted actions both the Federal government and industry can take to achieve market transformation in this area. We discussed ways that industry leaders can address key challenges when valuing high performance, energy efficient single-family homes and improvements.

    For many Americans, this is a key “pocketbook issue.” According to the National Association of Realtors’ Annual Home Buyer/Seller Profile, 87 percent of people surveyed said a home’s heating and cooling costs were “important” or “very important.”

    There has been a substantial increase in interest in energy efficient or green homes – as well as solar energy – in America. Energy Star Certified Homes now account for as much as a third of all new homes and the number of homes built to such green standards as LEED for Homes, Enterprise Green Communities Criteria, the National Green Building Standard, and regional or local certifications, continues to grow.

    With help from Administration programs at HUD and the Department of Energy, the industry has been working to meet this rapidly growing demand. Between 2009 and 2012, more than 1.25 million existing homes were upgraded to improve their energy efficiency.

    We are also expanding the toolkits of consumers and the housing industry to make sure energy information is being shared. The Department of Energy’s Home Energy Score offers a “miles per gallon” type rating that can easily be applied to homes across the country. The Federal Housing Authority (FHA) has made significant progress in updating existing policy for its energy efficient mortgages. These steps include:

    • Making it easier to use the FHA PowerSaver program for home energy retrofit loans;
    • Updating the FHA energy efficiency policies, including solar and wind technologies, weatherization and the Energy Efficient Mortgage;

    And the housing industry has also taken key steps to help homeowners better understand the quality of energy efficient homes. Qualified assessors now score homes on a scale of 1 to 10 and provide recommendations for cost effective efficiency improvements. A growing number of Multiple Listing Services include green data fields and toolkits in their markets. Appraisers are also developing energy efficient appraisal reports, tools, and training that have the potential to catalyze the industry.

    Early evidence is showing that these are not only smart investments for long-term cost savings and our environment, but they are also having “contributory value” for homeowners. A recent study by the University of North Carolina with IMT showed that loans on Energy Star Certified Homes are a good bet - foreclosure rates are one third lower than non- Energy Star homes.

    The roundtable was also an important forum for assessing the barriers to accurate and reliable valuation of energy efficient or green homes, and identifying actions financial institutions, government agencies, builders, appraisers, and realtors can take to support these efforts. Working together with the housing industry, we can improve the way American’s buy their homes, save middle-class families money, and help preserve our environment.

    Carol Galante is the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) Commissioner and Assistant Secretary for Housing and Harriet Tregoning is the Director of the Office of Economic Resilience.

  • CEQ Welcomes New General Counsel

    Brenda Mallory 3

    (by EPA)

    I am pleased to announce that next month, Brenda Mallory will join the Council on Environmental Quality to serve as our General Counsel. Brenda brings 28 years of experience that will support our work to cut carbon pollution, build a clean energy economy, and protect our air, land and water.

    Brenda's service includes substantial work in both the public and private sectors. Since 2010, she has been the Environmental Protection Agency's Principal Deputy General Counsel, where she oversaw management of the Office of General Counsel and served as Acting General Counsel in 2013. Before that, Brenda was the Associate General Counsel for the Pesticides and Toxic Substances Law Office, which advises EPA on both policy and litigation. Her other EPA leadership positions have included Associate Deputy General Counsel for water and waste issues, Special Assistant in the Administrator's Office, and EPA's representative on a White House task force that focused on energy project reviews and permitting.

    In 2012, Brenda received the Government Attorney of the Year award from the American Bar Association Section of Environment, Energy, and Resources. Before joining EPA, Brenda spent 17 years in private practice, 15 of which were with the environmental law firm Beveridge and Diamond, where she was a partner and Chair of its Natural Resources Practice Group. Brenda is a 1983 graduate of Columbia Law School and a 1979 graduate of Yale College.

    Brenda will be a valuable part of the team working across the Administration to meet President Obama's energy and environmental goals. I look forward to working with her to continue driving progress toward the President's commitment to addressing climate change, protecting the places and natural resources Americans care about, and supporting healthy, prosperous communities.

    Mike Boots is Acting Chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality.

  • Preparing Now for Our Climate Future

    Our climate is changing.  We are not just seeing global increases in air and ocean temperatures, we are seeing changes across the United States:  extended periods of unusual heat, a greater number of heavier downpours, more severe regional drought and wildfires in parts of the American West, permafrost thawing in Alaska, ocean acidification, and sea-level rise threatening coastal communities.  At the same time, much of our Nation’s infrastructure has been designed for the climate that we have had, and not the changing climate we now are experiencing and can expect in the future. 

    President Obama believes we have a moral obligation to future generations to leave them a planet that is not polluted and damaged.  That’s why, last year, he launched a comprehensive Climate Action Plan to reduce the carbon pollution that contributes to climate change, prepare for the impacts of a changing climate on American communities and businesses, and lead international efforts to address this global challenge.

    Even as we act to reduce carbon pollution, we know some impacts of climate change are already unavoidable. The Federal Government has an obligation to support American communities by protecting critical infrastructure and natural resources, advancing science that informs planning and investments, establishing policies that promote resilience, and ensuring that Federal operations and facilities continue to protect and serve citizens in a changing climate. The President’s Climate Action Plan prioritizes this work and integrates consideration of climate impacts and risks into Federal programs so that we are making the best possible use of our taxpayer dollars.

    In his Budget Request for Fiscal Year 2015 being transmitted to Congress today, President Obama is following through on those commitments and taking a wide range of steps to “up our game” in promoting preparedness for, and resilience against, the impacts of climate change.  This includes robust support for State, local, and tribal preparedness efforts, analysis of vulnerabilities of critical infrastructure, creation of incentives to address those vulnerabilities, and development and dissemination of better information and planning tools. 

  • New Clean Car and Fuel Standards Build the President's Clean Air Legacy

    Today, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) took action to significantly cut smog, soot and other harmful air pollution from our cars and trucks.  The new clean car and fuel standards – which are strongly supported by automakers, public health groups and other stakeholders – require better-performing pollution controls in vehicles, and cleaner gasoline.  Cleaner gasoline will reduce pollution from cars and trucks that are currently on the road, and also enable fuel-efficient and low-emissions technologies to work better in new vehicles.  That means cleaner air across the country, especially for the more than 50 million people who live, work, or go to school near high-traffic roadways.

    These new standards represent a major step in the President’s work to improve air quality and public health in our communities.  And they build on an already-strong record that includes:

    • first-ever national limits on mercury and other toxic pollution from power plants
    • long-overdue limits on toxic air pollution from industrial boilers and incinerators
    • rules to cut smog-forming pollutants from oil and gas wells, and
    • tighter air quality standards for particulate pollution (or soot), reflecting new science about dangerous health impacts 

    Together, the Administration’s actions are making our cities and towns healthier places to live, work, and raise a family.  They will help prevent tens of thousands of premature deaths, tens of thousands heart attacks and hospital visits, and hundreds of thousands of childhood asthma attacks. 

    Today’s action also rounds out the Administration’s national clean car program.  By cutting the pollution that causes smog and soot, these clean air standards work in tandem with the Administration’s standards that are reducing the carbon pollution that causes climate change and improving fuel efficiency.  Those standards, finalized in 2012, will roughly double the miles our cars go on a gallon of gas.  For owners of a new car in 2025, that means net savings equivalent to $1 per gallon on every visit to the gas pump.

    Because the Administration’s clean car program benefits consumers, workers, businesses, and the environment, it has been met with strong support.  The President’s fuel efficiency standards were supported by auto workers, consumer groups, environmental organizations, and auto manufacturers representing over 90% of U.S. auto sales.  Similarly, the clean air standards announced today are supported by a broad group of stakeholders, including automakers, auto workers, consumer groups, environmental organizations, states, and cities.

    More information on the new clean car and fuel standards can be found here

    See what people are saying about the new clean car and fuel standards here

    Drew McConville is Senior Advisor to the Chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality

  • How Solar is Powering our Armed Forces and Economy

    Editor's Note: This blog introduces readers to Bob Powell, President of SunEdison North America.

    As part of President Obama’s commitment to addressing climate change, he has made it a priority to help America’s armed forces double-down on renewable energy and increase federal renewable energy purchases.    In 2012, the Department of Defense announced a goal to deploy three gigawatts of renewable power and meet 25% of its energy needs with renewable energy by 2025.  In December 2013, President Obama called for the government to triple renewable energy use in federal facilities, to 20% by 2020.  These goals are achievable, in part because solar is now close to parity with retail electric rates and wholesale competition from fossil fuels in many states without incentives.   

    The Air Force is the largest consumer of energy in the federal government, spending more than $9 billion annually on fuel and electricity.  A prime example of the Air Force and U.S. military’s solar leadership, Davis-Monthan Air Force Base is a 16.4 MW photovoltaic (PV) solar facility in Tucson Arizona that began operation in January 2014 and is the largest of its kind on any U.S. Department of Defense installation.   Davis-Monthan’s solar plant was built in just five months thanks to up to 150 Americans “pounding in place” solar panels.  Moreover, the project will use almost zero water to generate power, which is important to a state facing severe drought. 

    Solar is not only an energy cost hedge against future electric cost increases and a water saver, but also a jobs winner for America, creating well-paid, highly-skilled jobs here at home that cannot be outsourced.  Solar is the fastest-growing source of renewable energy in America, pumping billions of dollars into the U.S. economy.   Back in 2008, President Obama had the vision to encourage U.S. solar energy just as the global economy was plunging into recession.  According to the Solar Energy Industries Association and The Solar Foundation, solar jobs have increased from about 24,000 in 2007 to an astounding 143,000 Americans working in the U.S. solar industry today, and a projected 165,000 jobs by the next State of the Union.

    Having come from a utility, I know how important it is that these solar energy projects demonstrate real cost savings for the public.  SunEdison was the first to introduce the solar power purchase agreement, now the leading business model in the industry and a smart new finance tool that enables our public agencies to more cost-efficiently procure energy by leveraging private sector tax options.   This new Davis-Monthan solar project will provide approximately 35 percent of the Base’s electricity requirements at an economically beneficial rate for 25 years, reducing the Base’s utility costs by an average of $500,000 annually. 

    Leveraging private-public partnerships through long-term power purchase agreements for solar is novel for federal agencies, and federal facilities require particularly strong partnerships to succeed.  The Air Force should be commended for its bold leadership in using this type of solar financing that is providing real savings and value to the government and to taxpayers.

    SunEdison is proud to partner with the Obama Administration to keep expanding America’s solar leadership, enabling U.S. energy independence while putting Americans to work every day.  Our company, headquartered in Belmont, California, is a leading American provider of solar from silicon to electrons, with manufacturing in Pasadena, Texas; Portland, Oregon; and St. Peters, Missouri.  We and our partners will keep working to make a safer, more stable world, with renewable sources of energy, as the President urged in the State of the Union.  2014 will be another year of action, helping more Americans turn to solar to go to work, save money, help meet their energy needs, and improve our environment.

    Bob Powell is President of SunEdison North America.